Dr. Weil and Geek Health Issues

By Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am — Filed under:

Kevin Rose interviewed Dr. Weil the other day and asked him a bunch of questions regarding health issues for computer geeks.

Geek Question: How bad is soda?

Dr. Weil: I don’t think there is anything wrong with carbonation, but the problem with most sodas is that they are high is sugar. The vast consumption of sugary drinks is one of the main things that’s driving the obesity epidemic in young people in this country. I like sparkling water with a little fruit juice in it.

High fructose corn syrup is bad and a marker of low quality foods, but whether a soft drink is sweetened with HFCS or “real sugar” is not a big difference nutritionally.

Geek Question: What about energy drinks?

Dr. Weil: You want to read labels. They throw everything but the kitchen sink in and there’s no real reason behind the ingredients. Be careful about sugar content. There may be many different caffeine sources in something. The price might not be justified with what’s in it. Plus, there are many tried and true energy drinks like coffee and tea.

Geek Question: What do you recommend to pull an all-nighter?

Dr. Weil: Coffee is great for that, but if you use it regularly, it’s not going to have much effect. There are forms of tea that are quite powerful. Matcha, a powdered green tea, was developed in Japan to keep Zen Monks awake.

There are other natural stimulants like bitter orange, which is an ingredient in some of these energy drinks. That has replaced ephedra in a lot of the things out there.

Geek Question: A lot of people are saying that dairy is bad for you. Is that true?

Dr. Weil: I think that’s an over-simplification. I think cow’s milk and all of its derivatives is a problem for a lot of people. Butter fat is not great for our hearts and arteries. The sugar in cow’s milk, lactose, is indigestible for a lot of people. But the big problem is the protein in cow’s milk, casein, has a particular ability to irritate the immune system and be associated with allergy.

The antibiotics that the cows are treated with is a whole other issue. One aspect that I never hear discussed is that in North America, we have cows lactating or pregnant almost all of the time. Because of that there is a high level of sex hormones in the milk and those hormones are cancer promoting. These are natural hormones that are the consequences of keeping cows lactating, but they can cause breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.

Geek Question: What about soy milk?

Dr. Weil: In Japan, where soy milk is consumed regularly, there is generally better health, better longevity and much lower rates of hormonally driven cancers. I think it’s very beneficial to consume whole soy foods moderately and regularly. That’s WHOLE soy foods (edamame, soy nuts, soy milk, tofu, tempeh), not fake food made with soy isolate, soy supplements, or soy isoflavones. We have no information on the safety of these products.

Geek Question: What vitamins should we be taking?

Dr. Weil: I think the quality of vitamins matters, but the quality doesn’t necessarily correlate with the price. I don’t think vitamins are substitutes for the foods that contain them, because at best they are partial representations of what nature provides. They are useful for insurance against gaps in the diet.

Geek Question: What vitamin D? A lot of geeks don’t get a lot of sunshine.

Dr. Weil: This is standard. Vitamin D deficiency is the rule in this country. Dermatologists have made everyone so paranoid about the sun that they use sunscreen, which blocks vitamin D. It’s worth getting your levels checked, but I recommend that everybody take 2000 i.u. of vitamin D a day. Take it with your largest meal, because it needs fat to be absorbed. The BEST way to get it from sun exposure.

Geek Question: What about Omega-3 oils?

Dr. Weil: This is the greatest deficiency in our nation. I recommend you take 2-3 grams of fish oil every day. Omega-3 rich fish to eat: sardines and sock-eye salmon. Krill is a good idea, but I’m concerned about sustainability. Chia and flax seed are good for your diet, but they aren’t substitutes for the nutrients you get from fish. Plant derived omega-3’s are a different molecule that the body needs to convert to what it needs and that conversion is not very efficient.

Geek Question: What about cell phone radiation?

Dr. Weil: That’s a very controversial issue. The bottom line is that you should err on the side of caution. I try to personally limit cell phone use. Distancing yourself from the source of the radiation is useful.

Geek Question: What about eye problems from looking at the computer screen every day?

Dr. Weil: That is a real issue. I guess the best advice is to get into the habit of looking at something distance once every two minutes. Protect your eyes from UV radiation when you’re out in the sun. Take the right doses of antioxidant vitamins.

Geek Question: What about pomegranate juice?

Dr. Weil: We should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables. The practical advice is that you want to eat across the color spectrum (every color of fruit and vegetable that you can). I don’t think you need to spend outrageous amounts of money on exotic super fruits. There are plenty of things on hand to eat that are much cheaper and more available. You don’t need these exotic things in your diet and we have plenty of home grown things that are great.

Geek Question: What is it about chocolate that has such addictive properties to it and is that really good for me?

Dr. Weil: Chocolate has a stimulant drug in it called theobromine. It also has a high fat content. It also has a chemical in it called phenethylamine that some people think is associated with elevated mood and a sense of emotional well-being.

Geek Question: What about the Atkin’s Diet?

Dr. Weil: I think the better incarnation of that is probably South Beach Diet. For men, particularly, it’s a relatively easy way of dropping weight. I recommend the anti-inflammatory diet. Try to avoid products made with flour and sugar.

Geek Question: You were against trans-fats and now they are labeled on packaging. Is there anything else that you’d like to get awareness about?

Dr. Weil: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is an indicator of low quality food. Avoid the food if there are too many ingredients on the label or ingredients that you don’t recognize.

Geek Question: At what point should you seek medical advice for depression? Are there supplements for it?

Dr. Weil: You should see a doctor about severe depression when it is interfering with daily living: can’t work, can’t get out of bed, disordered eating. Most cases of mild to moderate depression can be managed with regular aerobic exercise, getting adequate exposure to bright light, getting good sleep, moderate intake of caffeine and alcohol and supplements (vitamin D, fish oil, Sam-e, and St. John’s Wort).

Geek Question: What about exercise?

Dr. Weil: I think it’s important to get some sort of exercise every day. For people dealing with depression, I’d say a minimum of thirty minutes of some kind of vigorous aerobic activity at least five or six days of the week.

Geek Question: Are juice cleanses good for us?

Dr. Weil: The best way to detox a body is to stop putting toxic things in. The body has marvelous ways of clearing things up like urination, sweating, breathing and elimination. Drink more water, use a sauna and exercise to increase sweating and make sure you go to the restroom regularly. I tend to rely on those much more natural methods of detoxification. I don’t think you have to invest in these fancy detox kits and products that are sold in health food stores.

Geek Question: You’re a big drinker of tea. What do you recommend?

Dr. Weil: I personally like good quality green tea, oolong tea, occasionally Darjeeling tea, and pu-erh tea. Most of the medical research has been done on green tea. Go to a tea shop and Asian grocery stores to get good tea.


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